“The object of the Society shall be to provide an appropriate educational setting for the continued advancement in professional knowledge and skills in dermatology and related fields. Opportunities shall be afforded to promote good fellowship among its members. A goal shall be to uphold and maintain the highest standards of ethical conduct as set down in the “Principles of Medical Ethics” of the American Medical Association.”

History of the San Francisco Dermatological Society: The First 92 Years

Dr. John W. Weiss

Composed November 2013

Sitting down to compile a history of San Francisco Dermatological Society, one fact becomes immediately apparent. This is a group that lives for the moment. Not only is there a paucity of archival material, but great gaping holes appear in the chronology of the organization. A few written documents and sketchy oral histories from some of the older members are about all you have to go on. A valiant 1995 attempt by Dr. Marvin Engel, then-historian of the group, unearthed some documents and responses from some of the former officers (who were not always certain of the dates of their term of office) and little else. With this, the second of two formal histories, we hope to rectify that situation. More careful record-keeping should ensure that our society and those who served it so well will not be forgotten.

The first organized society for dermatologists, the New York Dermatological Society, was founded in 1869. A national group, the American Dermatological Assn., followed in 1876. The year 1938 marked the birth of the American Academy of Dermatology. Ten years later, the Pacific Dermatologic Association was founded.

The earliest date we can establish for a San Francisco society seems to be 1921. In 1921, Warren Harding was President of the United States and the Vice President was Calvin Coolidge. The population of the nation was 108,538,000. Drs. Banting and Best of Toronto announced the discovery of insulin and Dr. Albert Einstein won the Nobel Prize for the law of the photoelectric effect. While all this was going on, in a letter to Dr. Harry E. Alderson of San Francisco, Dr. Kendal P. Frost of Los Angeles commended Dr. Alderson on the latter’s plan to establish a local society in the Bay Area.

Another document from the same year indicates that there was a meeting at Stanford University Medical School, then located in San Francisco, and at UCSF, at which cases were presented under the direction of Dr. Alderson. An additional twelve names are scrawled on what might have been a roster. The next piece of evidence is a letter to Dr. Alderson from Dr. William Allen Pusey, editorial board chairman of the Archives of Dermatology and Syphilology in Chicago, accepting submission of the transactions of the San Francisco Dermatological Society. This letter is dated July 6, 1926.

Dr. Alderson (1877-1952) was a native Californian who was, in 1912, appointed Chief of the Department of Dermatology and Syphilology at Stanford University Medical School, a position he held until his retirement in 1944. He may have started the society but it was Dr Hiram Miller who kept it going.

What began casually as a group of dermatologists meeting at Dr. Miller’s Post Street office, by 1948 had evolved into regular monthly meetings at Letterman Hospital. These took place on Friday evenings and were followed by dinner. The early meetings were highly clinical and followed the traditions established earlier by the Chicago Dermatological Society, with protocols pasted on the walls outside the patients’ rooms. Discussion would follow the presentation of cases but there was very little pathology involved until leprosy expert Paul Fasel developed the two-screen method of showing cases. The picture of the patient was projected onto one screen with the pathology on an adjacent screen. This innovation, initiated in San Francisco, was emulated by the American Academy of Dermatology several years later.

As time passed there was a gradual transition from a society of practitioners presenting cases to more academic presentations in association with UCSF and Stanford. While remaining primarily an academic society, elements of social, political and service activities gradually expanded the scope of the group. One example was the Sulzberger Dinner, an annual event held from 1993 to 2008 in honor of the late Dr. Marion B. Sulzberger, one of the most distinguished figures in the history of dermatology. Dr. Sulzberger moved to San Francisco from his native New York in 1964 and was appointed clinical professor at UCSF. He was very active in the San Francisco Dermatological Society and attended nearly every one of its meetings until his death in November of 1983.

Giant as his presence was, Marion Sulzberger was only one of the members who made significant contributions to the field on the national level. There have been three presidents of the American Academy of Dermatology from San Francisco: Drs. Rees B. Rees (1978), John Epstein (1982) and Richard Odom (1987). Dr. Denny Tuffanelli served the Academy as Vice President in 1984 and the membership boasts multiple past Academy board members, perhaps the highest concentration of such leadership in the country, outside of New York.

For many years there were two clinical meetings annually at UCSF, two at Stanford and one educational dinner event. Members come from as far as Ukiah, Fresno, San Luis Obispo and Reno to attend. And, for 65 years, there was at least one member of the Epstein dynasty at every one.

The residents at both UCSF and Stanford were a crucial part of the society, especially with regard to the presentation of clinical cases. There often was a guest lecturer at the meeting who, in addition to speaking, participated in the clinical discussion. More often than not, these guests were nationally renowned experts in various aspects of the field. Dermatopathology has been an integral part of each meeting and there always is a dermatopathologist present to elucidate the microscopic aspects of the clinical cases.

In the latter part of the 20th Century and early in the 21st, Stanford and UCSF became less involved with the San Francisco Dermatological Society meetings. In the departments of dermatology they presented a few cases. Other cases were presented by the private practitioners who were members of the society. We have continued to have excellent lectures by nationally known dermatologists, experts in various fields. These lectures have been funded by the Herschel Zackheim Lectureship on Cutaneous Oncology and the John W. Weiss Lectureship on Clinical Dermatology.

In 2010 the Society was reorganized and reinvigorated under the leadership of Dr. Jenny Murase. Since 2010 there have been two outstanding meetings every year, one held at Stanford and one at UCSF. There are more than 20 cases presented and an expert lecturer from one of the departments at the hosting university. The San Francisco Dermatological Society also sponsors a luncheon, attended by all the residents. The reorganized society executive committee has members from Stanford, UCSF, UC Davis, Palo Alto Medical Foundation, Kaiser Permanente and private practice. As of this writing, Dr. Murase is Chairman and Dr. Anna Haemel is Vice Chairman. Dr. William Chow is President and Treasurer.

It is not possible to predict the future but, if the past is prelude, San Francisco Derm should keep on growing and continue to flourish in the continuing education of private practitioners, residents and staff of the Northern California dermatology community. It should continue to encourage the highest standards of practice and academic achievement of its members. All of us look forward to our centennial year in 2021, when we will celebrate 100 years of excellence and leadership in our field.

On a more personal note

Dr. John Epstein

John Weiss has asked me to describe what I remember about the San Francisco Dermatological Society, a group to which I have belonged since 1956 (i.e.: going on 70 years). The reason he asked, I think, is that almost all those who were members at that time have retired and the majority are dead. I cannot add much to John’s excellent history, only my own impressions.

In the early 1950s, 60s and 70s, I believe we held meetings every two months. They were on Friday evenings at the Dermatology Department of Letterman General Hospital. Frequently we would follow the meeting with dinner at the Presidio Officer’s Club. I joined just after completing my residency at the Mayo Clinic and therefore kept my mouth shut and listened to the pearls of wisdom from Gus Rees, Frances Torrey, my Dad, Norman Epstein, my uncle, Ervin Epstein, Gene Farber, Ed Ringrose and others.

I was elected secretary-treasurer in 1960 and served for three years. This experience taught me never to volunteer for such jobs again. But we muddled through with the kind help of the secretaries of the dermatology department at UCSF. In spite of my resolution, I served as president of the Society from 1963-4. That was when Marion Sulzberger came to San Francisco and there was another wise voice to listen to.

I should say that the meetings were clinical and people from all over the Bay Area would bring interesting and/or tough cases from their practices for discussion and help. Around 1983 Letterman’s dermatology residency program was discontinued and the meetings shifted to Saturday mornings at the departments at UCSF and Stanford. The residents at each institution have done an outstanding job of presenting patients at our clinical sessions and members also have been encouraged to present their interesting cases. In recent years the format has changed and we frequently have guest speakers. We try to present our most difficult patients with conditions in which they are experts.

Things certainly have changed in my almost 70 years of membership but the San Francisco Dermatological Society marches on – and so do I.

Dermatologists of San Francisco, 1870 to 1920.

From Archives of Dermatology 1975 Oct; 111(10): 1377-81

Although there were relatively few dermatologists in the United States in the years 1870 to 1920, San Francisco was well represented by the nine dermatologists who were active in the city during that time. These included George J. Bucknall, Alfred E. Regensburger, Douglass W. Montgomery, Howard Morrow, Harry E. Alderson, George D. Culver, Ernest D. Chipman, Hiram E. Miller, and Lawrence R. Tuassig. Seven were members of the American Dermatological Association, all but one were active academically, and several rose to great heights in their profession, community, and nation.

Practitioner of the Year

In the year 2000 the Society inaugurated the giving of an award that recognized a local practitioner who was noteworthy for his/her activities and accomplishments. The nominating committee consists of the three most recent past presidents with the immediate past president as chairman. In 2000, the initial award was unanimously bestowed upon one of the Society’s most distinguished members, Herschel S. Zackheim, MD.

Subsequent recipients were:

2001 – Gerald Gellen, M.D.

2002 – John H. Epstein, M.D.

2003 – Elizabeth Ringrose, M.D.

2004 – Richard McClintock, M.D.

2005 – John W. Weiss, M.D.

2006 – Axel Hoke, M.D.

2007 – Gerald Severin, M.D.

2008 – Patricia Engasser, M.D.

2015 - Thomas Hoffman, M.D.

2016 - Tim Berger, M.D.

ThomasHoffmanAward

Past Presidents (Partial list)

1937: John M. Graves, M.D.

1938: N.N. Epstein, M.D.

1939: Merlin Maynard, M.D.

1940: Frances Torrey, M.D.

1941: H.V. Allington, M.D.

1942: A.E. Ingels, M.D.

1946: Ervin Epstein, Sr., M.D.

1950: Rees B. Rees, M.D.

1953: Albert Shumate, M.D.

1963: John Epstein, M.D.

1964: James Bennett, M.D.

1970: Robert J. McNamara, M.D.

1971: Howard I. Maibach, M.D.

1972: S. William Levy, M.D.

1973: Ellis Mitchell, M.D.

1974: Harry L. Roth, Jr., M.D.

1975: Gerald Gellin, M.D.

1976: Robert J. Roth, M.D.

1977: Denny Tuffanelli, M.D.

1980: Marvin Weinreb, M.D.

1981: Marilyn Koehn, M.D.

1982: Patricia Engasser, M.D.

1983: Richard B. Odom, M.D.

1984: Marvin Engel, M.D.

1985: Robert M. Adams, M.D.

1986: David R. Harris, M.D.

1987: Jeffrey A. Carmel, M.D.

1988: Orval Eshelman, M.D.

1991: Axel Hoke, M.D.

1992: Thurid B. Lininger, M.D.

1993: Nicholas Lapins, M.D.

1994: Ervin Epstein, Jr. M.D.

1995: Robert Melnikoff, M.D.

1996: Karl Beutner, M.D.

1997: Elizabeth Ringrose, M.D.

1998: Gerald Severin, M.D.

1999: John W. Weiss, M.D.

2000: Thomas E. Hoffman, M.D.

2001: Timothy Berger, M.D.

2002: Christopher Barnard, M.D.

2003: Mark E. Goldyne, M.D.

2004: William Chow, D.O.

2005: Elizabeth A. Abel, M.D.

2006: Hayes Gladstone, M.D.

2007: Todd Anhalt, M.D.

2008: Beth Rubin, M.D.

2012: William Chow, D.O.

Past and Current Chairs

2012: Jenny Murase, M.D.

2013: Jenny Murase, M.D.

2014: Jenny Murase, M.D.

2015: Jenny Murase, M.D.

2016: Jenny Murase, M.D.

2017: Jenny Murase, M.D.